Tuesday, July 18, 2017

FS Projekt -Rozhdeniye Maga / Garpiya


Efes introduced me to his project, FS Projekt, via email. The package included all six of the projekt's "releases" if you could call them that. There is a heavy influence from modern European Power Metal. This falls somewhere between Rhapsody and Blind Guardian with a smattering of crap like Finntroll or something. When it comes to the European side of things, it's all kind of a blurred bunch of crud to me. All the instrumentation is well performed by the group with Efes on bass and guitars. The material sent contained a handful of singles and single song releases, so I'll focus on the two longer EPs, Rozhdeniye Maga and Garpiya (The Harpy). I will note that the most recent tracks, particularly "Kredo Tvoyo" is much less 'fantasy' sounding with double bass and modern metal sounding rhythmic verses more akin to a band like Meshuggah than the European Power Metal scene.

Rozhdeniye Maga's three tracks account for thirteen minutes of symphonic European Power metal. The overall impression: underwhelming. The tracks lack the heaviness and aggressiveness which I feel is necessary even in material with a more symphonic nature. For example, listening to a band such as Battleroar on their album Blood of Legends puts the lack of power into focus. There isn't a huge difference in ultimate style; both bands focus on melody, are at times upbeat, and have moments of orchestration. At times, FS Projekt incorporates too much instrumentation into the arrangements. The songs are not long, and do not require so much to maintain interest.

This isn't to say that FS Projekt doesn't hit some positive moments on Rozhdeniye Maga. Oleg Mishin's  vocals are actually quite impressive throughout and would not be out of place over something more gritty, as he has been touched with some sand in his throat. "Lyod (Ice)" is an example of this ability but the best track on this EP is "Fingolfin," which is noticeably darker, and more narrative sounding that the other two offerings. The more cimmerian melodies coupled with faster drumming presents the material here as more urgent and important. There's some interesting composition ideas, such as backing choruses, keyboard solos, and some authoritative almost spoken sections. There was no indication that there would be much difference between Rozhdeniye Maga and Garpiya (The Harpy), however expectations do not always yield reality.

Garpiya (The Harpy), is much harder sounding and much more metallic. Even after only a two year difference between the two EPs, Efes managed to concentrate on the elements that were missing and produce a strong release in the European Power Metal style. I would expect Garpiya capable of gaining widespread appreciation. "Shest Strun (Six Strings)" would not be out of place if it were to appear on a Battleroar or even some Edguy albums. The focus is more on the guitars and particularly the bass, which is prominent and is in itself interesting while following the guitar. It has that clunky, trebley bounce which is common in so much of the European Folk Metal. The keyboards and orchestration is still there, but has taken a back-seat and acts more as an accent to the compositions. Oleg's vocals are still very good as well. All lyrics are in Russian, which may prove to pigeonhole the band unnecessarily.

Song-wise, Garpiya's three tracks are all worthy of listening. "Garpiya" sets the tracks off with an energy which was missing on earlier material. "Shest Strun" is the highlight with a huge melody poured over the meat and potatoes of the track. Were it in English, the chorus would influence many to sing along, myself included. The instrumental section could be better, in my opinion, but it doesn't harm the track in any way. "Bagroviy Parus (The Crimson Sail)" is the longest of the three tracks but continues with much of the same stylistic integrity. Oleg's vocals are quite strong throughout this track. For someone that can't for the life of me voice an alveolar trill, to hear it so clearly performed in a heavy metal framework by a competent singer is a real treat.

While it's unfortunate the the following material from FS Projekt did not proceed with the heaviness and metallic force of Garpiya, the three songs from this unheard of projekt are worth their weight, and definitely a must hear for fans of European Power Metal and Symphonic Power Metal. It's not that there isn't more technically sophisticated and complex material out there. Plenty of bands rub themselves off all over their records like some pubescent teenager with his first porno mag. Efes and his band, however, wrote three good songs that don't need all the guitar wankery.

What I liked a lot about Garpiya is that, though capable, FS Projekt seem to have focused more on presenting strong and enjoyable compositions and arrangements. Ultimately, I think that is what most listeners want to hear. The mix, somewhat lopsided on the previous material, was honed here to support a more powerful and worthy trio of songs. I'd be really interested to hear the band return to this style, from the more modern metal of the two more recent singles which are all over the place in styles, ranging from metal, hardcore, tango, djent, etc. It's impressive in one sense, but it also doesn't come close to being as memorable as the Garpiya tracks or as enjoyable for someone into more traditional and old school Heavy Metal.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Traitor - Delaware Destroyers

This thrash band from the Philly area has been relatively consistent when it comes to their live material. I've seen them three or four times and each time was faced with an admirable performance of traditional sounding thrash by a group of exceptionally nice guys. Greg has always been a capable front man and the rest of the band, consisting of ex-Hessian guitarist Brian, drummer Joe, and bassist Tony* follow in suit. Yet, as is often the case when it comes to thrash, what sounds good live often sounds tepid on format. Delaware Destroyers is an average sounding release, highlighting the instrumental ability of the band and a lean towards good songwriting but lacking the certain spark necessary to ignite excitement. The whole overall release is a bit of good and bad in every respect and thus some of the material is worth exploring deeper.

The mixing of the record may be partially to blame, with the high-hat being the most powerful sounding drum component at times, for example in opening track "Defy The Gods" we are often hard pressed to discern what is happening under them. "Blackened Kings" has a somewhat lopsided rhythmic movement through the verses which, having been smoothed out in the writing process, would have really aided the track - particularly because I find the middle part of the song my favorite segment on the record. Also an issue is some details with the presentation - on my version "Traitor" and "Defy The Gods" are swapped in reality on the disc. I don't know if this was on purpose or not, and there is no clear lineup listed. Also unique to Traitor would be Greg's vocals which would best be described as a clenching sneering yell; one sneeze away from Mustaine's vocals on Countdown To Extinction.

The best overall song on the recording, "Traitor," has a lot going for it. First, providing the clearest point of reference for the band's influences on the record, it hearkens back to Kill 'Em All's opening "Hit The Lights," before tossing around a fairly memorable chorus. Then substituting the Metallica influence for Megadeth during the solo section in very recognizable homage to "In My Darkest Hour," of all things. Also worthy of praise is the decision to include the lyrics in the booklet - something often ignored. The lyrical content of the songs displays a band taking themselves seriously enough to not write about pizza, boogie boards, or boozing. With the exclusion of Dylan, the entire band contributed lyrically making the thematic content well rounded.

This was released nearly three years ago, and I'd be curious to see  what the band would put out now given an opportunity to record again. Though Delaware Destroyers is an average release, I could see a much more proficient and powerful follow up were the band to record and release something now. Traitor's best material should be before them, I hope the world gets to hear it soon.

*The bassist on the album is original bassist Dylan.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Malleus - Storm of Witchcraft

Impressed with their solid live performance in Boston, Malleus had given me enough reason to buy their excellent album, Storm of Witchcraft. The release, portrayed in a throwback fashion to the early-mid 80's period with pen and ink drawn cover of a studded glove yielding a trio of mutated skulls circumnavigated with a deep red logo and type-face, formatively employs the hallmark sounds of Hellhammer and pre-To Mega Therion Celtic Frost to transfer the listener to that time. Though drawing drastically from this aesthetic, subtle hints of d-beat and crust maintain some semblance of influence, but barely. The powerful atmosphere I witnessed live is captured in this very natural recording.

Keeping that qualifier 'formative' in mind, this is an exceptional first release. The strength of opening track "Ire" is possibly the best evidence that Malleus, on future releases, may refine further. The track is representative of much of the release as well. Malleus' strengths are the riffs perpetrated by guitarist The Hammer, which serve as precision tools in their trade. There is a purpose to them within the composition; specifically placed for maximum effect. Different tempos live on the tape and each song, though not always entirely unique, is usually identifiable in some manner. Vocalist and Bassist The Channeler is solid in both departments, though does little on the bass front to add depth to the tracks, mostly following the guitar lines verbatim. Vocally, however he inserts some additional rhythmic layers with his vocals taking the form of small bursts splattered and dripping across the compositions. This contrasts the guitar tone which is a slurry of distortion which still emphasizes the individual riffs and melodies. Another highlight is the stoic simplicity of The Relentless' drumming. A body doesn't always need an over-complicated skeleton to be effective; a snake is essentially one long rib cage and yet survives and excels in each environment.

My largest concern going forward would be some additional depth melodically and rhythmically. Malleus have shown with Storm of Witchcraft a group capable of the sound, attack, and attitudes necessary to take this project further. There does need to be some progression towards more rewarding repeat listens, though. Much as Celtic Frost took that leap between Morbid Tales and To Mega Therion, Malleus must do the same. A track such as "Act of Faith" already my favorite on the release, would have reached a new plateau with just some minor additional accents. The foundation for something ungodly has been set in stone here, and only a few more invocations of darkness to pervade their sound will set them on the path towards something rivaling a large portion of the material that warrants listening in this era of oversaturation.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Freedom's Reign - Freedom's Reign

There exists an ironic undercurrent whenever a musician associated with legendary records resurfaces from beneath the water. In one hand, often times musicians that have disappeared want to modernize and reinterpret their innate style. In the other hand, fans normally want that musician to not veer far from the roots which they know and love. This gambit is at play with Freedom's Reign. Victor Arduini, of Fate's Warning fame, reemerges after more than twenty years with an eponymous album under the moniker Freedom's Reign. While it's easy to find similarities to Soundgarden or Alice In Chains strewn throughout the album, the material also exhibits ghostly wisps of the rhythmic and melodic originality that made Night on Brocken and The Spectre Within such landmark albums. The modern production could be enough to deter stubborn 'heads looking for another eight "Orphan Gypsies" or "Kiss Of Deaths" from appreciating this but I found it a rather strong album nevertheless.

Arduini, aside from an unsurprisingly stellar guitar performance, also provides the vocal performance on the album which makes use of that modulated effect which adorned Ozzy's vocals on his albums after No More Tears. I'm not a fan but I doubt that this would drive away other listeners and it doesn't impact me so much as to skewer the album. It may subconsciously dredge up emotions that some would link to modern metal. Performances across the board are commendable; Tommy Vumback occupies the second guitarist slot, Mike Jone's bass playing is solid across the album, particularly in "Brother," which happens to be my personal favorite of the release - probably because I'm a sucker for verses that are driven by a bass and drums alone combo. Chris Judge on drums does a solid job backing up the rhythm.

Into the round-about of thoughts on the tracks, "Believe" is one of the heavier tracks on the album but is endorsed with a more laid back jamming penultimate bass section. "Up From Down" crams a memorable chorus hard into your ear drums. "To Be" stands out as the worst track on the album, and is an augmented chord away from being pop-punk or Green Day or Sum 41 or something. "No Excuses" steps back towards Metal but is probably the best evidence on the album of influence from the 90's alternative rock, grunge period. "Long Way" is an expertly paced and arranged track that would easily catch the ear of a wide range of listeners. Lyrically, all the tracks are reflective, pointedly concerned with a variety of emotional topics, and well written in a way sure to make the already sombre more melancholy. In this regard, the album is decisively mature.

Returning back to that irony which I spoke about earlier, Arduini and Freedom's Reign has nothing to do with the material which brought him into the attention of most of those which would be interested in his music and probably this project. The unfortunate result of that is that there's a good chance that the listeners that would come across Freedom's Reign would not recognize the strength of the album. The tracks are mostly solid good hard rock, which is what I think Freedom's Reign were going for with the project. While it's a solid release with only some slight missteps, I can't claim that it will garner much rotation in my listening.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Monthly Blast: February / March '17

Florence Namirimu - Ziba Bbiri (Unknown)

Vocal and percussion heavy, this Ugandan singer has been circulating in the world music niche for years. Melody, other than vocals, is provided by what sounds to be a xylophone or some similar tonal instrument. Ziba Bbiri exhibits heavy dosages of call and and response vocal arrangements, as is common in folk music in this area, with Florence providing the call and a group responding. Also present is a constant flow of aboriginal drumming from what probably is a baksimba ensemble. The drum has an overall flat sound but, similar to tabla, can create a range of tonalities. The drumming can be powerful at times such as is third track, "Mwami Togayala" in which the drums thunder through nine minutes of music. The waves of percussion produces a meditative trance-like rhythm which is easy to fall deep into. This particular recording has the xylophone farthest in the mix, with Florence's vocals piercing the drumming which is most prevalent. Unfortunately, a lack of variety across extended tracks could sour the overall listening experience.

Glaukom Synod - Ogre (2007)

Ogre contains several definitive Glaukom Synod tracks. This album is one of the earliest experiments in the project's history and still shows some evidence of figuring out what exactly the Glaukom Synod sound would be. Opener "Passive Retro," an electro-noise Greaser jam, "Triangle Obscene (Obesism 23)," a miasma of scraping guitar riffs and mechanical clanking, "Sci-fix It," the most futurist track on the release hinting at the sounds on more recent releases, and "Intragenitose," a slowish electro-doom track that also exhibits a gurgling fleshiness all are easily appreciated by interested listeners. A handful of tracks don't have enough identifying markers necessary to make the thirty-four minute release totally engaging from start to finish but with a handful of excellent tracks the lackluster cuts fall to the wayside. Once again, a very strong output from this French project.

Iron Hearse - Tomb Metal (2016)

Iron Hearse has taken a more minimalist approach to doom metal since my initial confrontation with the band on their eponymous release in 2006. Tomb Metal emphasizes this push. The band further separates themselves from the clutches of modern production, overly polished ghost-heaviness, and professionalism with this collection of demo material from several years back. The initial moments of the album reveal what is best described as garage doom. What Iron Hearse has always offered, however remains; quality writing, excellent riffs, and genuinely performed material. Even though segments of the tracks here are improvised and mid-completion the overall ideas are solid. For a compilation of demos and rehearsals, the clarity is impressive on most tracks with "Sonic Nemesis" and "Reborn From Ash" being the thickest of the seven tracks. This is by no means necessary listening and, really, will only appeal to close followers of Iron Hearse, whoever that may be.

Killing Addiction - Shores of Oblivion (2016)

Killing Addiction is one of those miasmas of Death Metal which doesn't seemingly land in one specific style but instead borrows a little bit from everywhere. A mixture of the cool Floridian sounds, some of the murkiness of British goliaths, and speckles of melody point towards the Swedes. Acheron's Rites of the Black Mass is a decent comparison for a large portion of this material. The rather short songs on Shores of Oblivion contain all the usual motifs and allot time for a few slick solos. Patrick Bailey, along with supporting on bass, also provides average vocals across the four tracks. Guitarists Chris Wicklein and Patrick's brother, Chad - who I was sorry to hear passed away shortly before this EP's release - put on a commendable show of ability, at their best when working off each other during leads and harmonies. "Cult of Decay" has some moments of interest in some atypical lead harmonies but "Into Shadow" is clearly the track to investigate. As Killing Addiction maneuver through several different intensities and vibes including a clean intro, doomier early section, a slammy mid section, and tremolo and faster conclusion, the capabilities of the band are on their best display. Though Shores of Oblivion is an average output, it's a quick enough foray into a band who's been around for almost thirty years.

Metal Law - Hellrider (2016)

I was not impressed with Lawbreaker, my first run in with these German Heavy Metal warriors. Hellrider is on a similar front with me right now. I really have tried to enjoy their throwback sound and references and style but if Iron Maiden didn't use these riffs on any of their recent albums, there's no explanation that will make me agree that another band using them is 'OK.' Evidence abounds but "This Dream," an intro to "Lord of Evil," is enough evidence with it's stolen Steve Harris bass pluckage and Bruce Dickinson karaoke attempt to land it among the very best of worst musical cosplay. Much like Lawbreaker, Hellrider similarly lacks energy. Most of the album is composed of restrained and overpracticed chugging chord progressions. The sole mentionable moment of the entire album for me happens to be during "Lord of Evil" as the Metal Law boys rip Enforcer's "Diamonds." Lamentably this is uninspired geriatric heavy metal.

Mordant - Demonic Satanic (2016)

Being familiar with Mordant by way of 2011's Black Evil Master album, hearing some new material from this Swedish quintet wasn't high on my to-do list - in fact, it was probably lower than just about anything on my to-do list - but as Demonic Satanic fluttered by, I figured I'd give it a listen anyway. Much like the offering on Black Evil Master we are given a fairly polished black metal album in terms of production, but unlike the endless black metal albums which are excellently produced and empty, there's a lot of depth and originality here. Mordant lie somewhere between Mayhem and Dissection with a heavy emphasis on signature Swedish melody and gritty Norwegian foundations but there's a big Heavy Metal influence to be found as well. "Demonic Satanic," is the first excellent example of this combination of influences. Mordant show themselves to be adept songwriters and experts in album construction. "Evil Impalers" touches on speed metal motifs (obviously) but more importantly keeps the album pacing varied and energetic. "Infernal Curse of Evil" has a bizarrely upbeat verse rhythm contrasted with dark leads and harmonies. Mordant have a sturdy album here and I'll be giving it more listens.

Sepulcro - Sepulcro (1989)

Peruvian obscurity Sepulcro dumped their self-titled demo out in the late 80's as the thrash wave was peaking in the US with their own take on the genre, albeit a more Power Metal influenced rendition. Opening with an instrumental, "La Prueba De Fuego," before moving into the self titled track, Sepulcro approach this demo with a certain level of focus and confidence which is noticeable in the four well-written tracks. Sounding like a mix between Medieval and Hellhammer with Iron Maiden poking through, Sepulcro definitely prove their ability and heart. It's unfortunate that they likely were held back from greater notoriety simply due to geography. This IS a demo, truth be told, and some moments are not totally spot on or fleshed out. Miguel Huamán's vocals spit energy and aggression in the Tuetonic Thrash style but are not exploited in the mix. The guitars have more in common with the sound of peeling a potato than a heavy metal guitar, but the riffs are discernable. Not a bad listen.

Slavecrushing Tyrant - Slavecrushing Tyrant (2010)

Despite having one of the more outrageous monikers, Slavecrushing Tyrant are impressive on their self titled album. Njord, with ties to the well known entity Dark Fury, is solely responsible for the material on this release from what I can tell. The album is fairly typical Black Metal in the Eastern European sense: raw and cold atmospheres, emphasis on melodic movement, and an introverted and reflective energy. After an anthemic introduction, "Woe To The Weak" launches into the brunt of the material appropriately wandering through fast riffs before fading out on a slower melody. This mixture of tempos and speeds is further utilized throughout the album. "The Gleam of His Ever Burning Eye," aside from having my favorite song title on the release, also employs this style, and emphasizes the continued strong songwriting abilities, as Njord subtly builds songs with precise compositional concern. It would be easy to write off some moments as drab or uneventful, however to do so would ignore the sense of grandiosity which Njord has fostered in a song such as "Kshatriya," which in it's ten-minutes trounces through atypical melodic movements and a thick suffocating atmosphere. 

Witchery - Dead, Hot, and Ready (1999)

Witchery's Dead, Hot, and Ready will rip your head off. From all angles, the attack is intense, gripping, and focused on all the perfect areas for maximum impact: rhythm, melody, attitude. The combination of Heavy Metal and Black Metal here is emphasized across every track, many of them short blitzes to rattle bones and break necks. Even today bands like Midnight are trying to get this right and often times coming up just short. This album doesn't come up short. It doesn't even come up big. It's a missile of gnarly wild riffs with their foundation in the 80's heavy metal and speed metal such as Accept, and Running Wild. It takes the baton, wins the race, then kicks the losers in the teeth. Consisting of a host of veterans from bands such as Seance, Mercyful Fate, The Haunted, etc, musicianship is precise and top notch. A listen to "Resurrection" or "Full Moon" will plunge riffs deep into the metal-soul. "Call Of The Coven" is one of the slickest tunes I've ever heard, rolling in and out of riffs and memorable progressions like a vampire awakening in the night. And the fangs don't hide. This is necessary listening, as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Glaukom Synod - The Hungry Transplants

You've seen the name here before, and if you've seen the name here before you know that I have been relatively enamored with Glaukom Synod's experimental industrial jesting. This was the reason I bought the entire back catalog off Nihilistic Holocaust. The sole creator of this madness, G.S, is to be applauded for this miasma of industrial noise. The Hungry Transplants shares many of the characteristics of the project's catalog: mechanical rhythms, repetitious percussion, a penchant for adopting orphaned sounds and incorporating and bending them to fit a structure or be the structure. With each track being it's own unique cacophony of unpleasant sounds and patterns, that there is still a unifying totality that glues the elements together is commendable.

Opening the album is "Formol Junkie," a track which appears elsewhere in the discography in different forms; Glaukom's anthem, if you could offer it a prize. The Hungry Transplants is more mechanical and less organic than some other recordings. It is also not as abrasive as say Covered In Semen and Slime. Even the fastest blasting is cut and corrupted with slower aspects such as in "The Perfect Nucleus (Always Deeper)". What I'm always impressed with is how tempting Glaukom Synod is to the ear and senses. It is not something which is appalling, even though it's foundations should not be construed or regarded as outwardly enjoyable. Somehow, the transcendent nature of these mechanical rhythms and staccato programmed sixteen-bit samples are yet calming and warm.

To me, Glaukom Synod is the factory come alive, the conveyor belts working in perfect unison, autonomous robotic engineers producing tiny receptors, diodes, and components in total harmonious programmed unison. A symphony o metallic existence motoring on incessantly into the distance for unknown reasons and goals. The Hungry Transplants is an ideal jumping point for Glaukom's discography. Several demos and a couple albums prior have been enough for refinement and yet it is still somewhat minimalist compared to some recent output. You get a very good understanding of what makes Glaukom Synod, and G.S., tick. Tick. Tick. Tick...

Friday, February 10, 2017

Black Grail - Mysticismo Regresivo (Re-Recorded Live Ceremony)

This version of Mysticismo Regresivo is a "re-recorded live ceremony." There isn't much information available as to what this actually consists of but I have answers. Apparently Black Grail, perhaps unhappy with the sound and structure of their debut album, wanted to approach the material from a more natural angle and include some content which was not a part of the full length version of the album. The defining pacing element of spoken word and tolling bells was absent in the original and a separate entity has been utilized to realize these additions. This is essentially a more representative release as to the band's wishes. Along with the re-imagined overall structure, Black Grail provide the seeker a host of questionable aspects to ruminate over. While seemingly promoted with the aesthetics you'd find define a form of ritualistic black metal, I neither get much black metal, nor auditory ritual here. More-so it sounds like Thrash with a hint of black metal in line with a band like Mortuary Drape or Master's Hammer. For all the spoken introductions and the reoccurring bell cue, even some group chanted vocals, musically there isn't a ritualistic feel to this anymore than there is any band rehearsal. Just because a band perceives their rehearsals as if they are ritualistic or ceremonial doesn't warrant the ritual black metal label. 

Drifting away from issues of categorization and definition, Black Grail's Mysticismo Regresivo is quite creative and unique. There are a lot of original segments, ideas, and riffs across the release. The spoken intros are interesting in that they aren't "spooky" or "demonic." Instead, they are simply spoken, seemingly, as anyone would speak to another and so, ironically, in a more accurate ritualistic sense then is often touted or produced in black metal releases. The release is heavily atonal and melodically taxing from the outset of "Dialogo Entre..."; a lack of normality in this regard makes mental recreation and recall difficult. Memorability is a factor. Where atonality has often existed in extreme metal, it is often utilized in the way adverbs are used to describe verbs. Black Grail use atonality as the actual verbs; the actual moving and doing component of their music is atonal. Some of the more structurally off putting pure riffs appear in "Plegaria Catartica." 

When we talk about about structure in metal, the majority of bands utilize the same overall approaches. Verse-Chorus is still highly prevalent but we also see linear/narrative structures becoming more prominent in extreme and hybrid genres. Black Grail fall into that later format, yet twist it into something new. Using markers to signal the audience - in Black Grail's case a bell between songs - links everything together into a single narrative and yet also signals separation between each track. 1349 did something similar on Hellfire and Acheron has done this on numerous albums similarly where each track was prefaced with cues to both link and separate. This formatting rarity usually falls flat, as it breaks up the pacing of an album too often. In the case of Mysticismo Regresivo the pacing is non-existent from the outset and so the bell, i.e. cue, can be appreciated as meaningful and not be regarded as a hindrance.
The promotion for the album promises "a philosophic-spiritual perspective that you should discover." Maybe that's what we are being given as we question numerous components of the whole. Unsure exactly where to place the band or how to approach their bizarre creation forces the listener to openly question categorization as a method overall. My version of the release was a tape sent to me by Divergent, who also sent me the Rid tape - another bizarrity, as I like to call these 'fit nowhere' releases - a while back and I'm thankful that he did because I will likely be coming back to this tape as reference for other material in the future. It's a singularly unique offering that presses the listener to look for abstract explanations for the irregularities that we occasionally find within the metal genres. While definitely not for everyone, I can envision the appeal to veteran explorers in the genre.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Monthly Blast: January '17

This month, Apteronotus joins the fray as we do our best to articulate thoughts on a myriad of genres and bands. Black Metal takes up quite the amount of space and time with bands from across the globe including Poland, Portugal, Iceland, and Croatia. Two bands, Infinite Earths and Teleport both draw comparisons from each of us to Australia's Stargazer, which is an odd and yet interesting development in what we determine to be an ever-increasing influence in style. Heavy Metal is given it's moment to shine as I give thoughts on Girlschool's '82 album, Sweden's Instigator, and Argentina's Steelballs. There are also a couple oddballs, as Apteronotus pokes around at the dissonant wizards of Lorn and I give some time to accommodate French rockers Wolve.

Duch Czerni - Reality Of Black Spirits (2016)
Polish Black Metal group Duch Czerni have been around for a few years now with a handful of demos and minor releases out. Reality of Black Spirits is a more recent effort. Most impressive here is the overall atmosphere given off by the release. Depressive Black Metal is a clear influence and bands like Silencer or Trist are a good point of reference. Duch Czerni steer clear of falling off into truly ambient territory making this a listen that would not be well received by those that have approached the style from that trajectory. Present are the common twangy dust-coated guitars, upfront drums, shrieking high pitched vocals, and noisy sub-melodies. Momentary bursts of shouted vocals add some variety. The release drifts in and out mostly, particularly second track "Grim Night of Eternity," leaving the listener with the sense that guitarist Azazoth and vocalist Wened Wilk Sławibor were mostly focused more on the atmosphere than the impact of the release. "Dismal Aura of Melancholy" is probably my preferred track here as the six-minute offering crawls through slow building layers of atmosphere into a final faster climax and culmination, but the general sameness of the tracks and their structures would be served by some variety. Though relatively enjoyable, probably skippable unless you approach depressive black metal from an aficionado position. (Orion)

Girlschool - Screaming Blue Murder (1982)
The longest running all female rock band's early catalog is ripe with killer tunes and their third album, Screaming Blue Murder, is no exception. The opening title track sets the tone straight off - upbeat and punkish NWOBHM infused Heavy Metal - and throughout the entirety of the album, a driving and powerful wallop of riffs is thrown at the listener. For me, top tracks are the memorable "Don't Call it Love", the almost Motorhead rip-off "Hellrazor", and slick "Don't Stop". The outlandishly sensual "Flesh and Blood" is the single most interesting track on the album, with sultry spoken verse and breathy almost whispered choruses but dumped at the end of the release relegates it to the b-side of a b-side band's album; a footnote for a footnote. While this is an enjoyable listen, it's nothing special to me other than the tracks mentioned. Shakin' Street is a comparable in sound but superior in song with Ross the Boss providing guitars. A fun throwback listen. (Orion)

Infinite Earths - Into The Void (2016)
Florida's Infinite Earths play a progressive style of Black Metal which, possibly due to high-notoriety releases from bands like Stargazer and to a lesser degree Blood Incantation, has becoming increasingly noticeable. For Infinite Earths the comparison to Stargazer is strongest; both bands utilize bass guitar as the central melodic instrument and guitars are often windswept yet add technically diverse segments throughout. This will appeal to a swath of the metal spectrum who find engagement in Gorguts, Cynic, and Vektor. Vocally, Josh Joel Mazorra presents his vocals like buckshot, all over the place, intense, and in myriad shapes and forms as Into The Void sees five tracks presented as individual acts to form a concept based on a comic book of his own creation. As the tracks swirl through structures and riffs, we're given numerous segments and ideas to ponder over. "Act 2: Amalgam of Madness" contains a particularly striking section where Mazorra does some nasally singing behind a guitar lead before reverting back to his raspy screams. "Act 3: Chaotic Good" opens with a breakdownesque riff and drums. Final track, "Act 5: Grave New World," ends on a high note with a melodic guitar line for a minute or so before noodling it's way towards the end of the track in a Dream Theater-esque fashion. A Strong EP, but it doesn't quite
capture my attention the way other bands are doing this style. (Orion)

Lorn - Arrayed Claws (2017)

Lorn is the kind of band that may come across as pure dissonance worship at first glance, but if a bunch of janky sounding chords won't scare you off their EP Arrayed Claws has a lot to offer. At the outset, it's important to revel in the band's song structures because they have a lot in common with traditional black metal's hypnotic tremolo picked repetition. While there are quick flourishes peppering the melodies, the changes are often incremental and obscured by an underlying sense of flow - making the music simultaneously smooth and harsh, it's whiskey. It makes Lorn a difficult band to pin down and that's a great thing, especially with how different all of the tracks are from another. After listening to metal obsessively for years upon years it takes a special band to stand out from the coma-inducing hordes of mediocrity and adequacy. Lorn though is a special band, have a listen to "Abstract Trap" and tell me that the harmonics that pop into the song at three minutes in don't absolutely slap you in the face. Really fascinating band, the relaxed outro reminds me of Vorde with the lush retro science fiction kind of sound. (Apteronotus)

Lux Ferre - Excaecatio Lux Veritatis (2015)
Another Portugese entity, Lux Ferre's Black Metal is not unique but is competent. The opening moments of Excaecatio Lux Veritatis should cause some minor salivation and a desire for a few additional sessions with their no-nonsense worshiping of Black Metal motifs. The ten minute long "A Luz Ofuscante da Verdade" opening, the length and relative lack of variety in the track, and the additional two minute long intro draws out and slows down the listener's ability to familiarize. The best tracks are shorter in nature, to emphasize Lux Ferre's intensity without a seemingly perpetual wall of sound. The overall best track here is "Miséria" with it's doomy intro, pendulistic melody, and even some variation in the vocal performance of Devasth in the form of a groaning yell in contrast to his more predictable screams. The track has a little bit of everything. Overall, I think that Lux Ferre's main conflict will be differentiating themselves from others, as the recording is quite generic. (Orion)

Pogavranjen - Jedva Čekam Da Nikad Ne Umrem (2016)
Weird Black Metal from the outset, Pogavranjen start the listener off running for their lives with a noisy cacophony of cymbal hits and guitar noise. The rest of Jedva Čekam Da Nikad Ne Umrem's six tracks and fourty-four minutes is a unique and airy mixture of Black Metal and Jazz. Deathspell Omega appears to be an influence throughout but at a snails pace. Into The Woods and Ved Buens Ende should be considered as well. There is little velocity in most of these tracks. Pogavranjen take, instead, an awkward pace through uncomfortable melodies, similar to Emanation but with a greater focus on clarity and less utilization of ritualistic ambient formations. The percussion is quite an interesting component throughout and is the jazziest component, evident in the usage of poly rhythms. Vocalist Ivan Eror is a mixture of clean shouted vocals and the sporadic harsher black metal screams. With nine different musicians contributing the record, it's difficult to offer praise to each, however as an ensemble praise is due. A good listen for fans looking for inventive and avant-garde black metal. (Orion)

Instigator - Bad Future (2015)
A strange Swedish Heavy Metal / Thrash mashup reminiscent of Master's Hammer without the classical music bombasticism, Vektor with stripped down instrumentalism, and Voivod's late 80's wackiness. Bad Future is four tracks peaking at fifteen minutes making this a quick listen and demonstration of the band's style. The inclusion of samples, numerous guitar tones and effects, and the kitchen sink all emphasize either a marked disinterest in being typical or an obsession with being different. "Black Magic" has a decisive Heavy Metal flair to it more than the thrashier "Anabolic" and  "Inseminoid." "Undetectable" closes the release with a running bass line that gives me déjà-vu. It's also a little long-winded for my taste. Instigator have a heavy personality and identity present here that's probably too wacky. Kind of like the class clown in elementary school, toned back a little bit, they might be in a sweet spot, though, and grow up to be famous comedians. (Orion)

Sinmara / Misþyrming - Ivory Stone / Hof (2017)

On this split Sinmara and Misþyrming prove that there's nothing quite like Icelandic black metal. While a lot of bands across the world have tried to jump onto the dissonant bandwagon many of them miss the mark and land firmly in wanky mathcore territory.  Not so for this two-song split. The riffs are distinct, abrasive, and most importantly carry forward melodies that have an energetic structure. Sinmara in particular really pushes the edges of clarity in mixing - the broad sound from layering dissonance and heavily distorted guitar lines somehow never feels messy. Misþyrming comes across a fair amount dirtier but it just hardens the band's edge rather than muddying up the sound. While I prefer Sinmara's razor sharp approach, there is a special charm to how Misþyrming's beefy percussion helps create order to a lot of the delightfully shrill chords and tamer sections throughout their song.  (Apteronotus)

Steelballs - Steelballs (2016)
Argentinian Heavy Metal in the vein of early Blind Guardian, Helloween, etc. Goofy name aside, this is relatively inoffensive to the taste of fans of this style of metal. It's a heartfelt rendition and manifestation of typical influences into original material. While "Steelballs" opens the EP, second track "Farewell" is better and more nuanced. More attitude is to be found in the more monotone melodies and sharper attack. Guitarists Juan Manuel Herrera and Lucas Galarza rip through well composed solos in all the tracks and Juan Pablo Churruarin's - who also provides accordion duties in Folkearth - vocal performance is hopeful. Final track "Inquisitor of Faith" is the most intricate of the album with a handful of dueling harmonized guitars. The Witches Brew version also has a competent cover of Helloween's "Starlight." Overall, probably an unnecessary listen unless your loins ache for this style of Power Metal. (Orion)

Teleport - Ascendance (2016)

If you like your thrash metal on the technical/progressive side then you absolutely have to at least check out the track "The Monolith" on this EP. Thrash always seems like an existential disappointment in metal, a genre whose best days are long since gone and plagued by heartless imitators and those who fail to take their music seriously (I believe the appropriate technical terms are re-thrash and pizza-thrash). This EP on the other hand has a lot killer riffs throughout its songs and the kind of pacing variety that, you know, actually thrashes about. This isn't cheap fast/slow music/ambient-bullshit variety either - check out how "Realm of solar darkness" transitions later in the song and the creepy intro to "Path to omniscience." A really good example of the band's smart ear for melody is how the solo in "Artificial divination" weaves into and plays off of the main melody rather than the lead guitar player just whipping out his fastest runs and swinging them around. Some of Teleport's sexier bass moments remind me a bit of a toned down kind of Stargazer. Not to imply the band is second rate, but their approach is more straightforward and traditional - at least in terms of progressive/technical thrash. (Apteronotus)

Wolve - Lazare (2016)

Lazare is Wolve's October 2016 released four song EP. It follows 2014's Sleepwalker album. This French rock band incorporates elements of soundscape and world music into their rock foundation. This is evidenced by the tabla playing in the title track and rhythmic approach which shows through in other tracks. Wolve are at their best when they incorporate these elements into their tracks. Wolve are likely to burst into big alternative rock choruses as well. Guitarist Julien Sournac's vocal performance is commendable. He mixes between soft and dreamy and laced with more emotion and aggression but is always within the pop-rock realm style. "Porcelain" is the most standard track on the release yet still incorporates an adventurous vibe through the a fuzzy bass and a playful panned percussion mix. The forty second long "Inferno" is a unique mash-up track with an edge compared to the other material. "Far" is an effective alternative rock song which toys with an experimental ambient interlude competently but the opening title track, "Lazare" is the most interesting on the record. Wolve's half-rock half-world/soundscape can be unique and rewarding. (Orion)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

An Empirical Look at 2016's Top Metal Releases

Just like we did for 2015 and 2014, Contaminated Tones has gathered up a bunch of data on what people generally think the best albums are for 2016. The data this year is from 37 different year end lists/polls. While not scientifically rigorous, this is probably the broadest data available on what people "think" is the best, along with information on information on which sub-genres were most popular and what labels did best in terms highly regarded albums.

Orion: One thing to note this year, is that it was fairly difficult to find dedicated lists that fit the guidelines of our year end analysis. In 2014, Apteronotus worked off of 40 lists and in 2015, 47 lists were used. Compiling the lists this year was increasingly difficult as I noticed a decisive drop in the amount of blogs, sites, and zines that were putting out best of lists for the year. 37 lists were available at the close of December, 2016 including those that were last minute additions to the data set. Whether this number is a sign of an overall drop in coverage of the genre or an outlier will be a question to review next year.

Top 2016 Metal Releases:

This graph shows the top 23 metal releases for 2016, based on what percentage of lists the release appeared on in the data. Only bands clearing the 10% threshold are shown. These top 23 bands comprised 35% of the top ten list occurrences, and the top 8 bands comprised 18% of the occurrences (both of these figures indicate a more diverse field of bands compared to 2015 and 2014).

Khemmis's Hunted took the top spot this year, appearing on 29.7% of the lists, which for comparison was essentially identical to how popular Ghost's Meliora was in 2015.

Here are the top 2016 metal releases in list format:

Khemmis - Hunted
Opeth - Sorceress
Oranssi - Pazuzu - Varahtelija
Gojira - Magma
Metallica - Hardwired to Self Destruction
Blood Incantation - Starspawn
Nails - You Will Never Be One of Us
Cobalt - Slow Forever
Destroyer 666 - Wildfire
Haken - Affinity
Inquisition - Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith
Neurosis - Fires Within Fires
Vektor - Terminax Redux
Abbath - Abbath
Alcest - Kodama
Anthrax - For All Kings
Dethspell Omega - The Synarchy of Molten Bones
Deftones - Gore
Hammers of Misfortune - Dead Revolution
Inter Arma - Paradise Gallows
Megadeth - Dystopia
Oathbreaker - Rheia
The Dillinger Escape Plan - Dissociation

Top 2016 Sub-Genres:

This graphs shows a breakdown of the same data while looking at the sub-genre of the entries. The numbers add up to over 100% because bands can have more than one genre. Having multiple genres was the most common arrangement this year by a fair margin at 31.5%, which is on par with 2015's figure of 30.25% for the same variable.

Overall, black and death metal continue to be the most popular genres, at rates comparable to last year. You'll notice that non-metal releases were more popular than many of the other sub-genres. Non-metal releases were similar to 2014's 12% rate, at 12.9%, and down from 2015's 17% rate. A pretty interesting trend toward stability in the data. Thrash and progressive metal however are both up compared to last year.

Orion: One trend to notice is the attention paid to the Heavy Metal and Power Metal genres. Power Metal has had poor showing three years in a row, but a consistent rise is notable, with 2.25% of the overall selection in 2014, 4.26% in 2015, and 6.9% in 2016. This trend is one to take notice of; over the past few years, interest in US Power Metal in particular has increased, with notable Germany-style festivals appearing in the US. Death Metal, in contrast, seems to be on the decline the past three years with 35.25%, 23.62%, and 21.8% showings in 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively. I wonder if this can be correlated with the changing composition of Maryland Deathfest, arguably the largest metal festival in the US. The inclusion of more USPM bands, Doom bands, and Heavy Metal bands in their roster has been notable over the past four or five years.

As explained in the methodology below, genre information, including metal versus non-metal, was decided using the Metal Archives, rather than relying on the opinion of anyone at Contaminated Tones.

Top 2016 Record Labels:

This final graph shows which labels were most common on year end lists, representing each label as a percentage of the total possible spots. In other words, a 100% means that a label released every release on every single top ten list etc. Unlike previous years, where Nuclear Blast and Century Media were neck and neck,  Century Media had a bit of a decline in popularity in regards to top releases. Keep in mind that there can be a lot of variability in a label's release schedule. This is perhaps best illustrated by Season of Mist's jump from the 14th most dominant label in last year's data up to second.

No label data was attached for non-metal bands, and this fact in conjunction with the entire point of the research (top ten lists only) means that these figures should not be read as reflecting total sales of any particular label for a certain year. The above 20 bands took up 58.38% of the available year end list slots. From an economics standpoint, this data is highly competitive, and more competitive than the prior two years with a Herfindahl-Hirschman Index of .0223. This indicates a diverse field of labels, similar to the top spots for individual bands. Interestingly, this happened while unsigned/independent bands dropped in frequency compared to last year.

  •  Information on genres, whether a band was metal or not, and label data were pulled from the Metal Archives.
  • No bands were excluded for not being metal. If a list included a band, we included it. Otherwise we may as well just be posting our own lists.
  • Only the top 10 from any list were included. This was done to have some continuity across websites in terms of the weight of their data. We excluded sites with lists of less than 10; this way each website is on equal footing.
  • Since different websites can have in-house tastes, websites with multiple lists were selected only once, and at random.
  • Other than looking at only the top 10, rankings were not considered or averaged. Rankings like these are what is known as ordinal data and typically cannot be averaged in a meaningful way.
  • As a quick example, suppose List 1’s author thinks we had a weak year and would rate their #9 album at 73/100 and their #2 spot only 75/100. We can’t meaningfully compare this with List 2’s author rating their #9 album a 80/100 and their #2 100/100 because we have only rankings, and not ratings.
  • No individual website’s list is reproduced here, neither is the entire dataset.
  • Label data was gathered only for metal bands. It’s also important to keep in mind that not every label releases music every year.
  • The list of websites accessed is in the spoiler tag below.
Websites Accessed:

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Attacker - Sins Of The World

Before reading onward, if you're not familiar with Attacker, go find copies of 1985's Battle At Helms Deep and 1986's The Second Coming immediately. Both albums are essential Heavy Metal and belong in every record collection. Then buy Sins of the World.

It's been three long years since Giants of Canaan, Bobby Lucas' first showing with Attacker, one of New Jersey's legendary US Power Metal bands. The combination of the ex-Seven Witches, Ex-Overlorde and Morbid Sin vocalist with Attacker has proved to be a match made in Heavy Metal heaven. Not only does Leatherlungs Lucas' range and ability surpass the majority of other local singers, but he has brought a new dose of energy to Attacker. This energy has been recognized throughout the local area as younger metal heads are increasingly embracing more traditional metal, especially older veteran bands, such as Attacker. On their new album, Sins of the World, Lucas is once again flanked by original drummer Mike Sabatini, original guitarist Pat Marinelli - who retired shortly after the recording of this album - and veteran Mike Benetatos who was part of the original reformation in the dawn of the millennium. Brian Smith fills the bass position.

I'm of the opinion that Sins of the World is an improvement over the strong effort on Giants of Canaan in terms of overall impact. Stylistically, Sins of the World is a perfect blending of Second Coming's more thrash influenced style and the NWOBHM-inspired melodicism of Battle at Helms Deep. A perfect example of this would be "Choice of Weapon",  "Archangel", or the album's title track. Giants of Canaan employed the same tactics of mixing the band's formative styles but was not as totally successful. There is a higher memorability factor, stronger dynamic presence, improved pacing, and a sense of urgency. This could be in part to a better mix and clearer production. I felt there was a dullness present on Giants... Attacker are wielding a sharper blade now. "Carcosa" and "Garuda" show off this clarity early on the record with punchy and aggressive riffs helped in no small part by an absolutely crushing bass presence and performance by Smith. Liner notes reveal that Benetatos wrote the majority of the material here and I can't help but admit that I'm extremely impressed at the revitalization back to full health of the early styles which made Attacker an important US Power Metal band in the early 80's.

Though the first half of the album is great with "Carcosa" leading me to buy an old copy of Ambrose Pierce's Can Such Things Be and "Garuda" making me want to go back and re-watch Mystery Science Theater episodes, The second half yields as strong a set of B-sides as I think exists on an album. I felt that "Glen of the Ghost" was the most prominent track on the last album for it's campfire story. Even better is the similar storytelling finishing off Sins of the World with the Conan inspired duo of "By The Will Of Crom" and "Where The Serpent Lies". I do wonder why they were separated into two tracks but the transition is not hampered in anyway by the split. "Archangel," is my favorite pie on the table here due to the entirely different approach of extremely catchy and memorable contrasting verse-chorus form with an extended instrumental section to split the song. Lucas' powerful vocals scream across big chords and barely noticeable progressive metal influenced rhythmicism. Also the song is about aliens which gets extra points in my book because not enough bands approach the material-ripe subject of aliens, extraterrestrials, UFOs and human breeding programs thousands of years in the past by the Grays.

"We Rise" is the only dud - if you could call it such - but I get it's inclusion from the point of view of the German audience who loves these types of anthems. It wouldn't have been as bad if it wasn't for the constant repetition of the chorus awkwardly at the end of the track. Whatever.

Sins of the World is not only Attacker's best album of their catalog but to be completely blunt, this is as close to perfect Heavy Metal as I've heard in years. The riffs and rhythms and passion well up in your bones, flesh, and teeth. The melodies and progressions unravel in ways as to inspire emotive face-wincing and nose scrunching throughout every song as the need to whip your head and bang your fists increases. Far-flung vocal pronouncements speak both to the heart and mind through Lucas' lyrics which, at times poignant and elsewhere purely innocent, propel songs into territories of quality reserved for only the strongest of warriors. There is that New Jersey edge - a sense of opinionated arrogance, attitude, and virility - that inexplicably hardens the material. It's as if Attacker literally walked into the local bar, fearlessly pushed their way through all the regulars, and just planted themselves in their seats without asking.